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Love Beyond The Wall

By Andrew Jack

ERLIN, 31 August 1997 - Maybe it's the result of gradually approaching middle age, but I have to confess that I easily preferred Berlin's trendy cafes to its crowded streets during the annual Love Parade when on a recent visit in July.

Call me an old fogey, but I'd rather adjust gently to my thirty-something status over coffee and apple cake in a secluded court-yard than attempt to move through the choked main streets of the soon-to-be German capital.

The alternative option was taken by Jack Lang, the late-fifty-something former French Socialist minister of culture, who has been reinvigorated - or is at least being heeded again by the press - following his party's surprise election victory on the other side of the river Rhine.

As a record number - reportedly one million - of Love Paraders filed through Berlin, Mr Lang excitedly proposed that Paris should next year host a version of its own, inspired no doubt in part by the success of his Fête de la Musique on mid-summer's day.

You can't help thinking that the spontaneity, energy and youth of Berlin is perfect for the Parade and would be hard to replicate elsewhere, above all in Paris. Not to mention the reaction in the French capital to equivalent levels of ecologic damage to the extremely limited parkland that it has to offer.

It's quite fun to catch up with the latest in youth fashion, and even more so to see what age has done to the features and dress sense of the veterans of previous Love Parades. But when it comes to weaving through thick crowds whose principal idea of fun seems to be shooting high-powered water jets in all directions, the humour is more of a speciality taste.

Techno has a certain charm, although less so if you're not sufficiently hypnotised, drugged or deafened into appreciating the more subtle enjoyments of the beat. But I can't help wondering whether the pioneering qualities of the early incarnations of the music have rather lost out in the last few years, and it's time to move onto another style.

If claustrophobes would have a problem squashed in the middle of the Love Parade, agoraphobes would face more challenges everywhere else in the city. For the rest of us, Berlin is a delight, with its huge central Parvis and nearby districts providing plenty of variety and air.

But unfortunately, nostalgiaphobes would also increasingly feel a bit too much at home for my taste. There seems to be a desire to get rid of all memories of the past as quickly as possible. The Berlin Wall, for all its associations with oppression, nonetheless remains a remarkable monument to twentieth century history. Yet there is scarcely a stretch that remains intact.

In its place, one of the world's largest building sites has taken over. In November last year, Daniel Barenboim conducted a dozen cranes dancing in unison to celebrate the topping-out ceremony for the area. New buildings almost touch the Brandenberg Gate, crowding out the hinterland that it deserves.

It will no doubt all be very impressive, but I couldn't help noticing a description in one of the displays inside the red "Info-Box" on the former East Berlin side, which offers panoramic views across the construction. It mentioned Hitler's megalomaniac plans for the redevelopment of the city as his global capital. But the architectural ambitions of the 1930s do not seem so far removed from those being laid out in the plans of today.

And I wonder how long before the original promoters of some of the more boastful modern shops and offices built along Friedrichstrasse and other roads in the East will be sliding into financial difficulties. Even if a fair share of the money showered on their construction landed up in locals' pockets, it would be thinly stretched to meet the prices and quantity of goods on offer.

Not to mention the lack of affordability for most of the residents of the area. There certainly did not seem to be many people buying when I passed through. No wonder that relations between "Wessies" and "Ossies" remain tense.

Let's hope that those fighting to preserve the "green man" with his hat - the symbol still lingering on many pedestrian traffic crossings in the East - win out against the pressure to give way to the Western's more boring profile.

And that at least the cafes can continue to feed off the vitality of Berlin and maintain their family-run feeling as the urban world develops around them.

Andrew Jack is the Paris correspondent for the Financial Times and a member of the Editorial Board of Culturekiosque.com.

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